April travel demand tale of two markets: domestic recovery and international stagnation

Istanbul New Airport ©AirTeamImages

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has reported that domestic travel demand improved in April 2021 compared to the prior month, although it remained well below pre-pandemic levels, while recovery in international passenger travel continued to be stalled in the face of government-imposed travel restrictions.

Total demand for air travel in April 2021 (measured in revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) was down 65.4% compared to April 2019. That was an improvement over the 66.9% decline recorded in March 2021 versus March 2019. The better performance was driven by gains in most domestic markets.

International passenger demand in April was 87.3% below April 2019, little changed from the 87.8% decline recorded in March 2021 versus two years ago.

Total domestic demand was down 25.7% versus pre-crisis levels (April 2019), much improved over March 2021, when domestic traffic was down 31.6% versus the 2019 period. As with March, all markets except Brazil and India showed improvement compared to March 2021, with both China and Russia reporting traffic growth compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Asia-Pacific airlines’ April international traffic was down 94.4% compared to April 2019, incrementally improved compared to the 94.9% decline registered in March 2021 versus March 2019. The region experienced the steepest traffic declines for a ninth consecutive month. Capacity was down 86.3% and the load factor sank 47.7 percentage points to 33.5%, the lowest among regions.

European carriers saw an 87.7% decline in traffic in April versus April 2019, barely changed from the 88.2% decline this March compared to the same month in 2019. Capacity fell 78.2% and load factor dropped 37.3 percentage points to 48.4%.

Middle Eastern airlines posted an 82.9% demand drop in April compared to April 2019, which was weaker than the  81.6% decline this March, versus the same month in 2019. Capacity declined 65.3%, and load factor fell 41.1 percentage points to 39.6%.

North American carriers’ April demand fell 77.9% compared to the 2019 period, an improvement over the 80.9% decline in March versus two years ago. Capacity sagged 59.3%, and load factor dropped 37.8 percentage points to 45.0%.

Latin American airlines experienced an 81.1% demand drop in April, compared to the same month in 2019, slightly bettering the 82.1% decline in March compared to March 2019. April capacity was down 75.8% and load factor dropped 18.0 percentage points to 64.6%, which was the highest load factor among the regions for a seventh straight month.

African airlines’ traffic fell 78.3% in April versus April two years ago, marking a significant deterioration compared to a 73.7% decline recorded this March compared to March 2019. April capacity contracted 64.0% versus April 2019, and load factor fell 29.1 percentage points to 43.9%.

(Because comparisons between 2021 and 2020 monthly results are distorted by the extraordinary impact of COVID-19, unless otherwise noted all comparisons are to April 2019, which followed a normal demand pattern).

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